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What's Good About Cancer

Mom to two little ones and mom.me contributor, Meredith C. Carroll will be sharing her experiences of her recent breast cancer diagnosis, imminent treatments and day-to-day living with the big "c" here on Mom's the Word. Please join us in supporting Meredith and wishing for the easiest path through this challenging journey she and her family are facing.

“You’re the most important person in this house right now,” my 5-year-old daughter said to me when I arrived home from the hospital following my bilateral mastectomy. This is coming from a girl who, when asked to draw a picture of the world, the only thing in it is herself, so it wasn’t an insignificant statement.

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She taped a “Welcome Home Mommy” to the window next to the front door, and when I sat down on the couch after limping in through the front door—after what amounted to a 5+-hour car ride home from the hospital—she carefully draped a blanket over my legs and said gently, “I want to cuddle with you, but I’m only going to put my head on your shoulder. I’ll be sure not to touch your breasts, although I guess since you don’t have any, I can’t, anyway.”

It’s not that I didn’t feel loved before. Nor do I feel as if I needed to get cancer to feel even more loved. But if my glass has been half full since getting cancer, it’s been because of the affection and adoration that has been showered on me, from people I know well to those I wasn’t sure knew I even existed. Strike that—my glass has been overflowing with enough lovey-dovey stuff to fill a refrigerator, freezer and one of those little college-size fridges you kept in your dorm room.

I’m not going to die (not from breast cancer, anyway, but believe me: I’m looking both ways two, three, sometimes even four times each time I cross the street these days). But since getting diagnosed, practically the only thing keeping me from hiding in my closet under a stack of turtlenecks and mismatched socks and sobbing as if I just watched that scene in the The Notebook where James Garner and Gena Rowlands settle in a single twin-size bed to purposefully take their last breaths together has been the overwhelming feeling of comfort and concern that so many have showered on me. My tears aren’t brought to you by Hallmark, though. They’re more of a Sally Field “you like me, you really like me” kind of way.

Sometimes just knowing that others are thinking of me and that they really do care is better than the medicine that actually makes me feel better.

There’s no sugarcoating that specific sharp pain that wakes up you at night when you sit up to go to the bathroom and forget you have drains sewn into you and sticking out of either side of your chest cavity that limit your movement more than a few degrees in any given direction—kind of like a dog who just wants to roam free but is sentenced to a retractable leash that reels him in every time he gets close to the best-smelling patch of grass. It’s cruel and unusual and stupid and ugly and painful, even if there’s an allegedly good reason for the restriction.

But even if the physical pain can’t be diminished but only soothed slightly with healthy and frequent doses of Valium and Percocet, what makes it bearable and even worthwhile are the deliberate acts of kindness of family, friends, nurses, friends of friends and even total strangers. From the nurses at the hospital to whom patients like me are essentially pieces of an assembly line but nevertheless act as if I was the only one in the entire building, to my parents caring for me the way I remember they did when I was a little girl and the best medicine was always my mom stroking my hair gently and telling me I’m her pussycat, and my dad engulfing me in his strong, tender embrace.

One of my most beloved friends has come to exercise with me since my surgery even though walking a mile in my current state would likely be faster if we crawled with shackles binding our arms and legs instead of standing upright with one foot in front of another. Then there’s my friend who’s more like a sister and who drove me nearly seven hours in the dark the other night in a snow so blinding the only thing we could see were cars piled up and crashed alongside the interstate, just so I could make my post-op appointments the next day—not to mention her cousin who has had a guest room set up for me that couldn’t be more comfortable if it were located in a Four Seasons hotel.

My husband and mom haven’t so much as blinked—never mind gagged—as they’ve cleaned the blood clots out of the drains attached to my body. My sister, aunts, cousins, distant cousins, neighbors, co-workers, clergy, childhood friends and newfound friends all seem to have the same goal: to make me feel acknowledged, whether through emails, texts, poignant cards in the mail, bottles of wines, cheerful cards, creatively thoughtful and funny gifts (a rhinestone-studded Victoria’s Secret bra and matching thong springs to mind).

To let me know that my suffering is on their mind makes me feel so not alone at a time when being alone could make me feel despair and emptiness that I wouldn’t wish on anyone at any time, no matter the reason. And sometimes just knowing that others are thinking of me and that they really do care is better than the medicine that actually makes me feel better. (OK, maybe not Percocet, but, you know what I mean.)

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The frightfulness of the diagnosis and treatment is something I couldn’t have imagined until it happened to me. Neither is the knowledge that people are simply as good—nay, wonderfully amazingly empathetic and generous with their willingness to do what they can to bring me any amount of emotional and physical comfort—as they are.

I always knew I was loved. But there’s a specific kind of love you never want to know people feel for you. However, should you be unfortunate enough to have to find out, it just enriches your life that much more, and then some.

No one gets cancer for the love, but if you have to, there’s really no better reason to have it.

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